Last Arizona Hike

Our last hike in Arizona before heading back to Albuquerque was a perfect ending to our wonderful winter getaway. On the northwest side of Phoenix, the White Tank Mountains were a short drive from our motel. The regional park, like the others we have visited in Arizona, charges an entrance fee, but it is well worth it. Trails and facilities are top notch and well maintained.

We started our exploration on the Waterfall Trail, a short one mile out and back trail, which was paved for most of the way. Of course, we didn’t expect to see any water falling down the mountain, although there was a small pool at the base of the waterfall. What we did see was a lot of other walkers, but we were in and out before the big crowds arrived.

There is a small pool of water down there but not the right time of year to see a waterfall.

We drove further into the park and stopped at one of the parking lots with access to several of the trails. Most of the loop trails were longer than what we were prepared to do. Looking at the map we decided to do an out and back on the Mesquite Trail, knowing we couldn’t get all the way to the top but we would do what we could.

I was surprised when we got back to the car to see that we had done 6 miles with a 1000 foot elevation gain on the 3 miles up. The trail was so well constructed with switchbacks and good solid footing that it didn’t seem difficult at all. Or maybe it’s that we have gained some additional hiking muscle after 15 straight days of hiking every day!

Besides well maintained trails we enjoyed the views and being able to see more of my favorite Arizona classic, the Saguaro Cactus. We couldn’t have asked for better weather— no wind, sunny skies and high 60’s. There were more hikers than what we usually encounter on hikes in New Mexico but plenty of room for everyone to enjoy being out in God’s wonderful creation.

No matter how barren the winter landscape is, Lee always manages to find some flowers to photograph.

A Bridge in the Desert

With John Mellencamp we can now sing: “I have seen the London Bridge in the middle of the desert.” On this trip we have encountered a multitude of interesting sights and stories and didn’t plan a stay in Lake Havasu City just to see the London Bridge. Nevertheless, the London Bridge story captured my imagination as we watched a video clip about it on our brief visit to the city’s Visitor Center to pick up some hiking maps.

Why would there be a London Bridge in the middle of the desert? Lake Havasu City sits on the Arizona side of the Colorado River but you can’t even cross the river here. The closest place to cross is on Parker Dam 20 miles downstream. London Bridge spans a channel that was dug at the base of a peninsula on Lake Havasu, creating an island. The island is the destination you reach when you cross over the bridge from the city. So obviously this bridge in the desert does not serve the usual function one expects for a bridge.

London Bridge was constructed here in 1967-1971, using the original masonry from the dismantled London Bridge that was built in 1830 to span the Thames River in London. After being used to transport London traffic for over 100 years, it was decided that a new bridge was needed and the old one was put up for sale. Robert P. McCulloch, a wealthy entrepreneur from St. Louis, purchased the bridge from the City of London and paid to have it dismantled and shipped to the US. He had obtained the desert land that is now Lake Havasu City free from the government with the caveat that he develop the land. No one wanted to live in this hot, arid climate and he needed a way to attract people to the area. Building the London Bridge here was a gimmick to attract tourists and sell the idea that this is a great place to live.

Robert McCulloch didn’t have to build the London Bridge to convince me that this is a great place to live. A hot, arid climate is my ideal, especially when it is the middle of February and a huge swath of the country, including our hometown, is experiencing a record breaking cold spell. We had to put up with a couple of windy days here as the massive cold front moved across the US but have enjoyed moderate 60-70 temperatures every day. It’s been perfect hiking weather. The hiking opportunities aren’t as plentiful as they were in southeastern Arizona, but we have managed to find some interesting spots.

Friends of ours who used to live near us in northern Virginia are on an extended RV trip around the US and were camped at Island Lake State Park near Lake Havasu. Our first couple of days here were spent catching up on news of their past year of travels and hiking with them on trails near their camp.

When they left to continue their travels we looked at hiking destinations we could explore for the remainder of our time here. We had been told about a trail called “Crack in the Mountain” at SARA park. Not only was the name of the trail puzzling but it seemed like a strange name for a park. Looking at the map we obtained at the visitor center, I realized that SARA was not a woman’s name but was an abbreviation for “Special Activities Recreation Area.” As for “Crack in the Mountain”, it was another way to refer to a slot canyon. Overall, it was an enjoyable hike, but I was glad that it was a loop trail and we only had to go through the slot canyon one time. Some people think it’s great fun and go through it both on the way out and the way back. But I found it quite scary and claustrophobic and was relieved when we got to the end of it.

We joked about the trail that we hiked the next day. That one was called Dead Burro Canyon and the directions were so poor that we wandered for 7.5 miles in the desert and never figured out if we actually got to the right place. What we did see before turning around was a group of 6 wild burros making their way up a slope in the distance. I named our hike for the day “Live Burro Canyon.”

We have one more day here to do some hiking before we say goodbye to the bridge in the desert. Fortunately, we will still have a couple of days in Arizona before it’s time to head back to Albuquerque. I don’t think I’m quite ready to face the cold weather, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it.